Shaun Murphy reacted angrily after being eliminated from the UK Championship first round, saying his 5-6 loss to Si Jiahui was “not fair” and that amateurs should not be allowed to compete in professional tournaments.
World Snooker bosses later gave a robust response, saying they “strongly disagree” with Murphy’s claims and insisted that the ability for young amateur players to compete on the biggest stage was a “critical part” of their development.
Murphy – 2008 tournament winner and runner-up earlier this year – battled 19-year-old Si, who fell off the main tour late last season, to force a decision, but then scorned an opportunity to finally seal the game. The loss sparked a vicious reaction rarely seen in the elite of professional sports.
“I’m going to sound like a grumpy old man, but this young man shouldn’t be in the tournament,” Murphy told BBC Radio 5 live after his early elimination by the Chinese teenager. “It’s not fair, it’s not right.”
He continued, “I feel extremely difficult about losing to someone who shouldn’t even be in the building. I don’t know why as a sport we allow amateurs to participate in professional tournaments. That is our livelihood. That’s our life. We are self-employed and not contract athletes. We don’t play for a team.
“The other 127 runners and riders in the tournament also make a living. In my opinion, it is wrong to meet someone who doesn’t play with the same pressures and worries as me. He played like a man who has no care in the world because he has no care in the world. It’s not fair, it’s not right
“I don’t pick on him as a young man, he deserves his victory. Amateurs should not be allowed to end up in professional tournaments. That is our livelihood. That’s how I put food on the table. This is how I make money. Since turning pro at the age of 15, I’ve earned the right to call myself a professional snooker player. He didn’t do that. It shouldn’t be on the table. “
Si had previously missed a golden chance of his own to score a comfortable 6-1 win after bringing back three snookers only to then miss the blues with victory seemingly in sight.
Si on duty against Murphy. Photo: Mike Egerton / PA
2005 World Champion Murphy continued his swing to recover well with breaks of 60, 87 and 85 to fight his way back and level the match at 5-5 in York. The all-important frame was a re-rack before Si took a half-century hiatus, only to let Murphy back at the table, who showed his experience to build a run of 44.
Si then left the last two reds open and Murphy dumped a long pot – only to miss a clear blue that gave the teen an unexpected opportunity to finally take a memorable win just before midnight.
After the game, Murphy responded to criticism and abuse on social media by saying he was handicapped by an injury. “I played with a serious injury and every shot was in pain,” he wrote on Instagram. “But I did my best anyway. I showed up anyway and almost won. I still posed backstage for pictures and autographs and for people on [the] Stage entrance. Unfortunately I lost. “
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The World Snooker Tour responded in a statement: “Si Jiahui deserves a place in ranked tournaments this season as one of the top players in the Q-School rankings in 2021.
Although he has amateur status, he deserves his place in our events based on his results. Amateurs play by the same rules as professionals, they can earn prize money and places on the World Snooker Tour based on the results.
“Many elite amateur players like Si Jiahui train and compete full-time in hopes of getting a guaranteed tour spot, so they are under a lot of pressure with no guarantees. Providing opportunities for the best amateur players is essential to our growth as a sport, and it benefited Shaun in his early days as a player.
“We have come a very long way as a global sport in the last decade, and that’s partly because of the structures we’ve built at both professional and grassroots levels around the world. For the best young players, the chance to compete on the big stage is a crucial part of their development and the development of the entire sport.
“We respect Shaun’s opinions, but in this case we expressly disagree with his comments.”
A senior expert said he agreed with Murphy’s point of view. Defending champion Neil Robertson told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Amateurs are under a completely different pressure where there is actually no pressure because they are not fighting for ranking points. You’re basically on a free hit with a pro, so I totally agree with what Shaun says there because it’s very dangerous. “
Previously, three-time British champions John Higgins fired two centuries in the last three frames to score a 6-1 win over Michael Georgiou. Kyren Wilson garnered a break of 110 – his 299th century of his career – when he joined Higgins in the second round with a 6-2 win over Soheil Vahedi.